Everything you say can and will be used against you.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Unpolitical Animals

Harvard's Robert Putnam, in his famous work of political science Bowling Alone, observed Americans have transitioned (progressed?) from true "democratic deliberation" through actual, human contact among communities, to the more symbolic, impersonal political engagement of the last several decades:
"'Nationalization and professionalization have redefined the role of citizen activist as, increasingly, a writer of checks and letters,'..."

But if you're not a man of letters, or if the checking account is a little lean, don't feel left out! Just tell us to what address shall we deliver your democratic deliberation uniform?

The more Putnam-spirited local activist group in my city used to be quite active, but presented with modern options many residents have chosen to send their business to Facebook, who serves the public's grousing needs with more slickness and facility, but, in my view, with the approximate effectiveness of a giant protest condom. Our mayor confirmed for me this feckless politics of digital pecking and clicking suited politicians' preferences just fine when I met with him about a program our group was urging, but which I knew the mayor did not support. "How about," he scoffed, "you just do a SurveyMonkey?" 

Surveys, Facebook comments, petitions, none of these are probative of any real political engagement, or of any real social capital, or of any shared interest in finding answers to the problems that face us. "Neither force, nor argument, nor opinion...are thinking," wrote T.H. White, speaking through Merlyn in the Arthurian epic The Once and Future King. "At present, however, Homo impoliticus is content either to argue with opinions or to fight with his fists, instead of waiting for the truth in his head. It will take a million years, before the mass of men can be called political animals."

There was a fine example of how the modern protest culture forebodes the end of thought in 1993 when a feminist in Maryland raised a fuss over the motto on the official stationery: "Fatti maschii, parole femme," which translates as, "Manly deeds, womanly words." The crisis was neatly averted, however, by simply changing, by legal fiat, the official translation to "Strong deeds, gentle words." No need for democratic deliberation, historical analysis, etymological exegesis, or indeed any thought of any kind whatever. Protesters created a problem, such as it was, and government, without the need to bother the general public with it, simply legislated it out of existence.

Rather a nice cottage industry, that. Might look for more ways, you may be tempted to think if you are in government, to avoid democratic deliberation, all due respect to Bob Putnam.

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